This article was published in the Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 22nd March 2019
I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or the onset of dementia, but I think I’m getting to be easily distracted. When I should be concentrating on something important I can find myself going off on a tangent. This happens in all sorts of occasions. The most disturbing is when I’m distracted at Mass. It could be something said in the homily that makes me think, sometimes examining my own life in the light of what’s been said. Before I know it the service has moved on and I’m trying to catch up.
Simple tasks at home can be similarly affected. I can set out to make tea and notice something that needs to be put away. Before long I’m tidying the kitchen and the tea has been forgotten. The same thing happens in the shops. I’m sent to get bread and milk but when I’m wandering through Tesco trying to find where they’ve moved the milk to, I spot something I had meant to buy last week. I’m off to get my new purchase and before long I’m home without the bread. This does not go down well with my other half who can often be found muttering about care homes.
It’s not as if the distractions are not important. They are usually things that really need to be done. It’s good that I do the things that distract me but the problem is that I don’t do what I set out to do in the first place. I suppose I need to get my priorities right.
I’m finding that life as a Catholic is getting a bit like that now. The more I read about what’s going on in the Church, the more unsettled I feel. I think we are allowing ourselves to get a bit distracted. The issues of abuse in the Church, physical and sexual, homosexuality, the role of the Pope, the responsibility of the hierarchy; these important issues seem to be crowding out everything else. I’m not saying that these issues are not important but perhaps we need to stand back and see where we are going.
It seems like every day the news carries a story of child abuse in the Church. There is a big splash in the papers about a priest who has been accused of abuse and then you hear no more of it. A priest you know is removed from his parish and the word spreads. After police investigations the charges are dropped but that is not on the news. The Church investigation then starts so the priest is not returned to his parish. Later, when the Church finds no offence has been committed the priest can return to his post. Again there is nothing on the news. Unfortunately, not all cases are settled with a happy outcome.
Revelations keep coming out. Some of the offences occurred way back in the past but it all creates an impression of a Church riddled with offenders today. In fact, I get the impression that the Catholic Church is the only place where abuse is going on. However, this is not the case. Child abuse is going on in families, in schools and in all sorts of organisations we always thought were safe. The Catholic Church is not the source of most of the child abuse despite the impression crated by the media but it is surely the place where we would expect children to be safe.
It is the role of the media to expose scandals like child abuse and, despite the pain, we should be grateful to those who have shone a light on this. Every organisation should be aware of this problem and take steps to combat the threat to children. The Church set up an independent commission, the McLellan Commission in 2013 to investigate the problem in the Church and make recommendations. The Commission reported in 2015 and the Church has been working to implement the recommendations since then. The document “In God’s Image” outlines the Church’s policy.
The Church now requires every parish to implement its Safeguarding procedures. Those people, lay and religious, who are involved with children or vulnerable adults are investigated by Disclosure Scotland and must attain a certificate to prove their suitability. Further to this the Church will provide training for those involved, deal with allegations, provide support for survivors, support those accused and continually monitor the quality of our systems. This is not yet complete and it will take time to put everything in place but it is a greater response to the problem than I have seen in any organisation I have been involved with.
We must raise awareness and keep vigilant without this becoming a distraction from the real work of the Church. Christ instituted the Church to carry on His work of saving sinners, including those guilty of child abuse. We have to see our Safeguarding work as a natural part of the Church’s work in spreading the Gospel. Those found guilty of abuse will be dealt with in the legal system and the Church will have no role in shielding anyone from the law. It is important that the Church can continue to work to bring salvation to the abuser. Those guilty of abuse must still have access to the sacraments. The Parish Priest must agree conditions and procedures with the abuser to allow access without endangering children and vulnerable adults.
Attending church services should be a joyful and uplifting experience. I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that. Knowing that the Church is taking steps to maintain a safe environment for all should allow us to continue or Catholic practices with confidence. We are all responsible for the safety of others and knowing that there is a Safeguarding Coordinator and Parish Priest who will respond to any concerns we have should give us the reassurance we need in our parishes.
I’d like to think that we could put all this behind us and that we have a future where abuse does not exist. That is just a pipe dream. We have just become aware of something that has been going on in human society for a long, long time. It’s not going to go away but, God willing, we will now be better prepared to protect our children and vulnerable adults in our care.